Australian researchers have found a way to fight superbugs using the bacteria's own sugar, making a promising step in combating the rise of anti-biotic resistant superbugs.
Published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, researchers from the University of Queensland created a compound that acts as a "Trojan Horse," stopping bacteria from inside the cell.
University of Queensland Professor of Chemistry and Structural Biology Matt Cooper told Australia's national broadcaster on Wednesday the new compound is very promising in combating the rise of anti-biotic superbugs.
"[They'll] be extremely valuable to society and to human health because we know that when we use most antibiotics, resistance arises soon thereafter," Cooper said. "The cell wall has been a target for antibiotics such as penicillin and vancomycin before, but the difference here is that we are stopping a centrally important part of the cell wall linking process."
Copper said the compound made is not sucrose, the sugar normally used though causes damage to human health, but a sugar made by the bacteria itself.
"If you like, it's the mortar that the bacteria uses to make a wall around itself," Cooper said. "Bacteria have cell walls similar to the walls of a brick house, except instead of mortar the walls are held together by sugar polymers."
The researchers isolated this sugar, changing it chemically so it actually "turned into a weapon against the bacteria in the cells."
"We then fed it back to the bacteria itself and the bacteria has these enzymes that if you like, is the brickies' laborer putting the bricks together using this sugar mortar," Cooper said.
"And what happened is our particular molecule went into this enzyme and blocked it... destroying the cell wall and killing the bacteria."
"It was just like a Trojan horse -- the bacterium was expecting to find its own sugar... which it could use to build its wall, but when it finds our compound, it stops the enzyme working... and the brickies' laborer goes on strike."
Cooper said it was a promising step in combating the rise of anti-biotic resistant superbugs, though the new compound is far from finished.
"There's a lot more work to be done, but people have tried for a long time to make a drug based on this particular sugar made by the bacterium," Cooper said. "If we can make a successful compound that can be given to people that are sick with superbug infections, there is a chance we could have an antibiotic that could last a long, long time."